In the age of Trump, we need a tax return law for candidates

In the age of Trump, we need a tax return law for candidates
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New Jersey just passed a bill that would bar any presidential candidate from being on the state ballot in 2020 if that candidate does not disclose his or her income tax returns. This is an interesting idea that sadly we should not have the need to implement. 

But thanks to the advent of corrupt candidates like Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' MORE, there may be a need for this type of legislation after all. 


Ideally, no matter what legislation states pass or don’t pass, Donald Trump will be defeated in 2020 by a much better Democratic candidate who reflects our country’s values, humanity, civility and decency.

But what this legislation indicates is that Americans are sick of politicians who try to deceive the electorate and get away with concealing what every other presidential candidate has voluntarily disclosed for the three decades:  one's tax returns. 

It remains to be seen whether this will be a trend that other states follow. But what is clear is that the desire for this type of legislation stems from Americans wanting more transparency and honesty from their elected officials.

This is true both on the macro level — if you say you are going to disclose something then you need to disclose it — and on the micro level — the right to know what a candidate has on his or her tax returns as it pertains to their net worth, business interests, who they are beholden to and how much they give to charity. 

The movement is real, and it is a backlash from what this current president has been able to get away with while on the campaign trail and for the past two years in office. There is a reason Trump does not want anyone to see the entirety of his tax returns.

Trump does not care about conventions, nor does he care about doing what is right. He only cares about doing what is right for him. 

What will paint him in the best light? What will keep the light from shining into his darkest dealings with shady partners or questionable foreign governments? How can he keep the public in the dark about how much (or how little) he pays in actual taxes? These are the only questions that matter to Trump. 

What is abundantly clear is that Trump has something big to hide. If he didn’t, he would have disclosed the tax returns early on. Many believe, including one of the sponsors of the New Jersey legislation, Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-N.J.), that had voters known what was in Trump’s tax returns, he may not have been elected president. She is likely right, but we will never know for sure. 

This legislation can ensure that this situation never happens again and that voters are afforded all the information they deserve to make the right decision about the most important elected position in the world. 

Others, even some Democrats, believe that this could be a slippery slope. What else could legislators demand of presidential candidates? Health records? Birth certificates? (Ironically, Trump demanded exactly that from President Obama). But my sense tells me those other “demands” take care of themselves during the campaign. 

For example, people know where a candidate was born, though it doesn’t stop ridiculous "birther" conspiracies. Still, it has not gotten so bad that we need legislation to ensure a candidate was born in the United States.

The same with the health records. If a candidate’s health is an issue, it normally is a obvious one, and he or she must prove they are up to the task of grueling campaigns and then governance. 


Up until 2016, we didn’t need legislation for something as obvious and mundane as tax returns either. Then Donald Trump and his shady business dealings made it an issue by lying to the American public by at first saying he couldn’t legally disclose them because he was under an audit. Then, he said he would release them at a later non-specific date. Eventually, he said he would not release them at all. He has taken us all for fools. 

This legislation guarantees that if a candidate wants to compete in a state and be on the ballot, that candidate cannot pull a stunt like that again. In fact, there are members of Congress who have proposed passing legislation mandating all candidates for president must release years of tax returns. We should consider it. 

In an ideal world, this legislation would never even have been a thought because the need for it would not exist.  With Donald Trump in the White House and as the most likely Republican nominee for president in 2020, we are as far away from an ideal world as we can get. 

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.